Panetta Delivers Sharp Warning about Cyber Attacks

SecDef: 'Cyber is now at a point where the technology is there to cripple a country'

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta Wednesday singled out cyber attacks as a critical defense area, calling the attacks a "great" and "growing" threat to the economy and infrastructure, one that could "paralyze the country."

"We are literally the target of thousands of cyber attacks every day — every day," Panetta said in remarks at Georgetown University. "Thousands of cyber attacks that are striking at the private sector,┬ástrike at Silicon Valley, strike at other institutions within our society, strike at our government, strike at the Defense Department and our intelligence agencies."

"Cyber is now at a point where the technology is there to cripple a country," he continued, "to take down our power grid system, to take down our government systems, take down our financial systems, and literally paralyze the country. That is a reality."

There have been a series of cyber attacks made public in recent weeks, including attacks on a number of major U.S. news organizations, the Department of Energy, and on the social media site Twitter.

The Pentagon announced in January a plan to increase the Defense Department's cyber unit by more than 4,000 people.